NEW YORK — Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux said the NHL failed in its punishment of the New York Islanders following a fight-filled game between the teams – and went so far as to question whether he wanted to stay in the league.
Lemieux, who had a Hockey Hall of Fame career with the Penguins, issued a statement Sunday in which he bashed the league’s handling of the aftermath of Friday night’s 9-3 Islanders victory in which there were 346 penalty minutes, 10 ejections, 15 fighting majors and 20 misconducts.
“Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be. But what happened Friday night on Long Island wasn’t hockey. It was a travesty,” Lemieux said.
The NHL suspended New York forwards Trevor Gillies for nine games and Matt Martin for four and hit the team with a $100,000 fine Saturday, saying the Islanders “must bear some responsibility for their failure to control their players.”
Lemieux, who bought the team in 1999, said the sanctions weren’t nearly enough.
“The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed,” he said. “We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players. We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action.
“If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to rethink whether I want to be a part of it.”
The NHL stood by the punishments handed out by league disciplinarian Colin Campbell.
“We are entirely comfortable with how Friday night’s events were handled,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. “We have no other response to Mr. Lemieux’s statement.”
Pittsburgh forward Eric Godard was the only member of the Penguins’ organization to be punished by the NHL. He received an automatic 10-game suspension because he left the bench to join a fight between New York’s Micheal Haley and Penguins goalie Brent Johnson.
Pittsburgh also avoided a fine by the league. That drew the ire of Islanders general manager Garth Snow.
“When I saw the suspensions on both sides and the fines, I was a little bit surprised it was just our club that got fined,” Snow said Sunday. “You can ask the league about it.”
Asked if the punishment was fair, Snow said Campbell had a tough job and he would never criticize him.
“I respect the process,” Snow said. “It was a professionally run process.”